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Trigger warning: this article involves experiences with a mental health condition. It may be difficult reading this story, especially if you have experienced a mental health condition yourself or supported a friend or family member. If you are feeling impacted, please contact the Beyond Blue support service, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Headspace, or your local GP for support.
Today Amanda Linton has many reasons of which to be proud. She has spent her career working with Australian small businesses to establish quality bookkeeping practices. Running two offices in two states, she was nominated for Telstra Business Woman of the Year, and in 2017 was appointed CEO of the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (ICB).
Contented, well-traversed and relishing a ‘good cheese platter and a Barossa red’, this Adelaide local is inspirational. But in many ways, Amanda is just beginning to understand the breadth of what she has to give and how she can help others.
After asking about her passions as a child, she says with a laugh, 'I was one of those kids who loved to count. I counted everything, every day. But, ironically, I wasn't great at maths.'After high school, when she started looking for work in her home state of Tasmania, she applied to work with an accounting firm. To her amazement, they hired her – and so began a career path for the young woman who loved to count.
Over time, bookkeeping soon became her sweet spot. It was about helping clients, building trust, expanding relationships and creating tangible outcomes for them. Most of her clients were running small businesses, with many specialising in building and construction.
'You're in a trusted position,’ says Amanda. ‘They're talking to you about intricate details of their lives. People say to me all the time, how does finance excites you? It's the people who excite me. Bookkeeping is the vehicle that helped me connect with others.'
With a combination of confidence and positivity, Amanda eventually set out on her own. In 2009, she had that moment many small business owners have burnt into their memory – seeing the signage go up; it was all real. The next couple of years saw her grow her business, mentor others, and cement her purpose. Her passion and dedication led to awards, respect and appreciation.
As with all great endeavours, however, comes adversity. While her enterprising drive had led Amanda to great career heights, with it came dragons to be slain. But the adversarial beasts were not competitors or outside influences. They were, in fact, inside. Contained but growing stronger, finally, they came out, overpowering her almost unexpectedly.
What was a ‘looks good on paper’ life hid the papyrus of truth. A marriage breakdown was followed by another long-term relationship ending. The agonising realisation that she may not be able to have the fiscal and career success along with the family life she desired began to gnaw away at her.
Well-meaning people advised her to keep her chin up and throw herself into work. As a result, working 70 to 80 hour a week became the norm. 'When I look back, it took three or four years to come crashing down,’ says Amanda. ‘I was building this business. I had my whole external world telling me how amazing it was. I'd just moved to Adelaide with 11 staff still in Hobart. I had a satellite office in Queensland but I didn't feel like I was enough.
From the outside, she was the picture of success but that amplified her imposter syndrome. 'I couldn't grasp it, and it didn't feel real,’ she recalls. ‘I was unable to keep real connections.' Then came a crash.
It would be too simplistic to say there was one lightbulb moment. For Amanda, like many others, it was a series of little glowing warnings, 'My internal voice kept saying, “Just deal with it, just deal with it”. But I started making mistakes, being forgetful.'
Amanda neglected the signs and eventually, it was too much. 'One night, I was driving home. I actually have no recollection of that drive. But when I was home, I walked into the kitchen and sat in the middle of the floor. I dropped my keys and my bag and burst into tears.'
At that moment, her phone rang. It was an interstate friend who asked if she was okay, fatefully at the right time. 'She stayed on the phone with me every half an hour for the rest of that day,’ recalls Amanda. ‘She listened and encouraged me to talk. Then she urged me to see my GP, which was the point where I had my final lightbulb moment.
‘I knew I was in strife. It took someone to finally see through the smoke and mirrors that kicked me onto the path of getting help.' Following this, Amanda reduced her workload and kept the reality of her burnout to just a close group of trusted confidants.
Many years on, after self-reflection and steps towards being honest and transparent, Amanda felt that telling her story could help others. 'I didn't ever intend to talk about this publicly. I sat in on a meeting for ICB with the tax office. They put together a two-day consultation group around mental health, and I started thinking, “Maybe it would be okay to talk about my experience”. So I volunteered to speak out to industry insiders. I expected a room of 20 to 30 people but it turned out to be 250 pairs of eyes intensely listening. At that point, there was no turning back.'
But it was one pair of eyes that made an impact on Amanda. Twelve months after she wrote an article about her experience, a stranger approached her at a conference. She pulled out a well-worn copy of the article from her bag and tentatively said to Amanda, ‘I have days where I wonder if it's all worth it. On those days, I pull this out, I read it, and it reminds me that you can get through the hard days.’
The encounter cemented why she continues to share. 'I never know who in the room connects with the story,’ says Amanda. ‘But I only need to make a difference to one to make it all worthwhile.'
When asked what has been her steepest learning, Amanda reflects, 'The win for me now has come from recognising I couldn't go it alone, and I would like everyone to believe that. You don't have to know and do everything. You're not perfect, and you aren't supposed to be.'
For more information and help, phone the Beyond Blue support service 24/7 on 1300 22 4636; join www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support for an online chat (1pm-12am AEST), or send an email (you’ll get a response within 24 hours).
The HIA Charitable Foundation are committed to the mental health issues that affect one in four people in the residential construction industry. For more information or to make a donation see HIA Charitable Foundation